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IM901 Cultures of the Digital Economy


20/30 (CORE) CATS - (10/15 ECTS)

Optional module for all CIM taught PG students


This module will encourage students to develop a theoretical and practical understanding of the history and development of the digital economy and to engage with a range of methodological approaches for attending to digital transformation.

Students will be introduced to the way in which digital economies lie at the intersection of human practices and technical devices, along with the idea that in order to grasp this new economy, more than strictly economic concepts are required.

The module is open to students from all disciplines; no specific prior knowledge is required.

Module Convenor - Dr Meng Liang


For 20 CATS:

Reading summary related to class presentation (1000 words; 30%, summative, end of week 10);

Final Essay (3000 words; 70%, summative; end of module).

For 30 CATS:

Reading summary and class presentation (1000 words, 20% summative, end of week 10) 

Final Essay (5000 words, 80% summative; end of module) 

Indicative Syllabus

Week One: Introduction: Animal Spirits and Technical Devices

This lecture will introduce students to main conceptual underpinnings of the module. The lecture will demonstrate how digital economies lie at the intersection of human practices and technical devices and suggest that in order to grasp this new economy, more than strictly economic concepts are required. The second part of the lecture will introduce the structure and reasoning behind the module.

 Week Two: Networked and Informational Economies: Making

This lecture will provide a historical account of the emergence of the networked and informational economies. This historical account will then be brought to bear on a consideration of the operations and strategies of leading economic entities in the digital domain.

 Week Three: Affect and Cognition

Key sections of the digital economy rely on the generation, circulation and capture of affect. The ‘contagious’ nature of networked economies often operates at the level of affect, and its formal expression in voting, tagging and ‘liking’ buttons in social networks. This affective component of digital economies is matched with the rise of the ‘cognitive’ as a key site of value production. This lecture will consider central thinkers of affective and cognitive economies in relation to a series of contemporary case studies.

 Week Four: Networks, Worth and Value

The internet is rife with ranking, ordering and ascribing novel forms of value and worth to things. Some of these forms of value and valuing are fed into the profit-seeking strategies of commercial entities, while others emerge within smaller communities and online projects and are put to different ends. This lecture will consider a series of these forms of value creation and valuation practices that are novel to digital networks.

 Week Five: Currency

Digital networks underpin the contemporary global finance economy and the rapid exchange of money. But they also make possible entirely novel transformations in currency. This lecture will consider money as a key actor in digital networks, and in relation to economic and socio-economic theories of the nature and function of money.

 Week Six: Reading Week

 Week Seven: Funding

The distributed nature of digital networks makes possible new forms of finance. This lecture will explore in depth several case studies that will help grasp the specificity of digital and economic transformation in relation to funding. Students will come to appreciate the historical significance of such transformations and be provided with analytical techniques to attend to their specificity.

 Week Eight: Technologies of Development

This lecture addresses how new digital devices feed into narratives and strategies of global economic development. Students will be introduced to current debates in development studies and explore the uptake of digital technologies in specific development contexts. The lecture will critically engage with development discourses by considering the global production of digital technologies and through a consideration of historical precedents.

 Week Nine: Commons and Peers

This lecture looks closely at commons and peer driven economies, which seek to distinguish themselves from the commercial web. The lecture will explore the history of open source software, showing how this movement relates to older narratives of the common, and it will also interrogate competing visions of the networked commons.

 Week Ten: Reflection and Conclusion

This lecture will reflect upon the central themes of the module. The lecture will be tailored to further exploring questions that emerge in discussion and in particular ones that relate to final research project.

Illustrative Bibliography

Amin, A., & Thrift, N. (2003). The Blackwell Cultural Economy Reader. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Beneger, J. (1986). The Control Revolution: Technical and Economic Origins of the Information Society. Harvard, USA: Harvard University Press.

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks. The United States of America: Yale University Press.

Blanchette, J.F. (2012). Burdens of Proof: Cryptographic Culture and Evidence Law in the Age of Electronic Documents. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Boyle, J. (2008). The Public Domain: Enclosing The Commons of The Mind. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Callon, M., Millo, Y., & Muniesa, F., (2007). Market Devices. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Castells, M. (2010). The Rise of the Network Society. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Castells, M. (2001). The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Galloway, A. R. (2012). The Interface Effect. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Gregg, M. and Seigworth, G.J. (2010). The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke Univeristy Press.

Helmond, A. and Gerllitz, C. (forthcoming). The Like Economy.

Ingham, G. (2004). The Nature of Money. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Kelty, C. M. (2008). Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mackenzie, D. (2008). An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Mackenzie, D. (2009). Material Markets: How Economic Agents are Constructed. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Meretz, Stephen. (2012). Ten Patterns Developed by The Oekonux Movement. Journal of Peer Production, 1. Retrieved from

Moulier Boutang, Y. (2011). Cognitive Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Parikka, J. (2007). Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses. New York: Peter Lang.

Prahalad, C. K. (2005). The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

Sampson, T. D. (2012). Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Schwittay, A. F. (2011). The Financial Inclusion Assemblage: Subjects, technics, rationalities. Critique of Anthropology, 31(4), 381–401.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • critically evaluate recent empirical developments in the digital economy;
  • identify and critically interpret different conceptual approaches to the digital economy;
  • locate new economic entities in relation to larger historical processes;
  • demonstrate the capacity to adopt, compare and contrast concepts from diverse disciplinary backgrounds;
  • identify and critically analyse the different economic and conceptual underpinnings of digital economic devices.

Important Registration Information:

CIM Students

  • You will need to make your optional module choices using the degree specific CIM module webform available in the CIM welcome page. All further instructions will be available to you on the webform.

  • The webform opens on Monday 12th September at 12:00 noon BST and closes on Monday 19th September at 12:00 noon BST

  • Gheerdhardhini (CIM PG Coordinator) will register you for your chosen modules, confirming your place in the module by 30th September, Friday.

  • If there are any queries, please get in touch with Gheerdhardhini via 

External Students

  • Computer Science – Please register your interest in the CIM module with the PG Administrator in your home department - 

  • Psychology - Your PG Administrator will be in touch before Term 1 about registering interest for CIM modules

  • All other external students - Please contact the CIM PG Coordinator (Gheerdhardhini) via email (, to request your optional module choice at the latest by Week 1 : Wednesday, 5th October, 17.00 BST.


  • Please be advised that you may be expected to have access to a laptop for some of these courses due to software requirements; the Centre is unable to provide a laptop for external students.

  • Please be advised that some modules may have restricted numbers and places are allocated according to availability and inter-departmental arrangements.

  • Please note that a request does NOT guarantee a place on the module and is subject to availability.

  • Gaining permission of a member of CIM teaching staff or a member of staff from your home department or filling in the eVision Module Registration (eMR) system with the desired module does NOT guarantee a place on that module.

  • Requests after the specified deadline will not be considered.

  • For external students - Only after confirmation of a place from CIM PG Coordinator can students’ or their home departments confirm their registration on eVision/MRM. Registrations by students who have not received confirmation of a place from CIM will be rejected via the system.

NOTE – The above-mentioned registration deadline also applies to the CIM optional modules running in Term 2. We will consider registrations again in the first week of Term 2, but only in relation to modules where there is availability.

We are normally unable to allow students (registered or auditing) to join/leave the module after the second week of it commencing.